It ended with six points being waved off the board, and a preseason No. 1 ranking going up in smoke. But quiz Oudious Lee about the last time the Nebraska Cornhuskers wore red tops on the road, and it usually comes back to the same thing:
That damn tiger.
“They had a 450-pound Bengal tiger sitting outside of that [visitors] locker room,” Lee, a former Huskers and NFL defensive lineman told Land of 10 when asked about the 1976 season opener, the Big Red’s first — and only — visit to Baton Rouge.
“And we come out of the locker room and they start poking him in the ass with a cattle prod. I about fainted. I about wet my pants.”
So this is Mike III, the Tigers’ mascot from 1958 to 1976:
LSU cheerleaders ride on the cage of Mike III during a 1958 game against Ole Miss: pic.twitter.com/TRk8ipsjLU
— SI Vault (@si_vault) December 23, 2013
And this is what Lee and the Huskers saw when they entered the field:
Evolution of the LSU tiger head logo, still in use today, based on a photograph taken in 1959 of Mike III. pic.twitter.com/EfVtdvqjSP
— Taylor Martina (@olmec26) June 17, 2017
Fling open a door to see that waiting on the other side and you’d soil your armor, too, champ.
“That was my second time back down there,” recalled former Cornhuskers split end Chuck Malito, who’d been recruited by the Tigers from his native Colorado. “But the fact is, they’re similar [to Nebraska fans] and they’re loud and make a ruckus. And they try to get the tiger going.
“They really put the tiger right in front of our locker room. If you were afraid of cats, you were in a little bit of hurt.”
As far as we know — it’s still early in the week — Oregon isn’t planning on sticking an apex predator in front of the tunnel when the Huskers run out on to Autzen Stadium on Saturday afternoon. So there’s that.
But the Ducks have thrown a sartorial wrench in the works, rolling out a new all-white uniform for their marquee rendezvous with Nebraska, forcing the visiting Huskers to do something they haven’t had to do since that treak to Death Valley 41 years ago: play with red tops on the road.
The last time (I can remember) Nebraska wore their red jerseys on the road was the 1976 season opener vs LSU pic.twitter.com/MZmdOrmCCM
— Paul Jake Jacobsen (@HuskerTapes) November 21, 2016
LSU wears white at home as tradition. Oregon is wearing white at home on a whim, although this whim has a heart behind it. The Ducks’ Doernbecher Freestyle threads were designed with input from three cancer survivors who were patients at the OHSU Doernbacher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
— GoDucks (@GoDucks) August 24, 2017
— JJ Birden (@jjbirden) August 25, 2017
The Ducks change looks more often than Lady Gaga. The Huskers, meanwhile, reside on the other end of the fashion palate, their uniform classic and largely unchanged for generations. So even the slightest tweak in routine, even for a noble cause, raises something of an eyebrow in Big Red country.
“You know, I don’t think it was that big of a deal,” Malito told Land of 10. “I don’t remember having this big long debate. The coach said, ‘This is what you’re wearing this week.’ You show up and get the uniforms out and that’s what we wore.
“I think nowadays, people want that [specific look] and everything else. Especially Oregon — they have like 15 different uniform combinations. That’s how it can be a problem, where it’s like, ‘Gee, I really play better with a green uniform,’ or in [this] case, with a white uniform. But back then, [when] it was time, you show up and you play.”
The last time the Huskers showed up in red on the road, the game ended in a 6-6 tie and featured just 485 yards, combined, between the two schools.
Although it could’ve been a 12-6 victory for Nebraska, the AP preseason No. 1. On the last play of the tilt, Huskers defensive end Ray Phillips picked off a pass and pitched the football to linebacker James Wightman, who appeared to run it in for the score as time expired.
Only whistles blew and Death Valley exhaled. Officials ruled that Phillips had stepped out of bounds at the 30 — before the pitch.
“It was pretty controversial,” Malito said. “I think some people were pretty upset about it.
“They didn’t have instant replay back in that day, and so people make mistakes. I thought [the touchdown] was good. A lot of people thought it was good. Coach [Tom] Osborne’s a class act. He didn’t go crazy on the guy, like you see with some people on those [calls]. That’s the way he rolled. And that was his deal.”
Then-defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin told the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star at the time that he agreed with Phillips being out, but that “he was out of bounds before the clock ran out. We should have had one more play.”
They didn’t get one, and the No. 1 ranking went to Michigan for the next eight weeks.
‘The fact is, you’ve just got to show up and play. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing.’
— Former Nebraska split end Chuck Malito on the Huskers’ red tops at Oregon
“The first game of the year, you had breakdowns, timing’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” said Malito, who caught a team-high 3 passes for 42 yards.
Whether it was the live Bengal tiger or the din of the crowd, the Big Red never found their groove offensively. Quarterback Vince Ferragamo was forced to call timeout at least once because he couldn’t get a play off. On their first drive, the Huskers drove 65 yards on 11 plays for a score. But the snap on the point-after was mishandled by backup quarterback Randy Garcia, capping the lead at 6-0.
And there it stood. Kicker Al Eveland’s 34-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right, preventing Nebraska from building a 9-0 cushion. Another Eveland attempt, from 39 yards out in the fourth quarter, was blocked by LSU linebacker Rusty Domingue. The Huskers were turned away on downs twice inside the LSU 40, with Osborne electing to go for it rather than kick.
Fortunately, the Blackshirts controlled the contest even when pushed, stopping a 15-yard LSU drive at the Big Red 3-yard line and forcing the hosts to settle for an 18-yard field goal with 7:13 left in the contest that tied the game at 6-6.
“[Eveland] makes a couple mistakes, and you’re playing against a good team and you don’t come out on top,” Malito said.
“The fact is, you’ve just got to show up and play. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing.”
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